Star-Gazing from the World’s Tallest Mountain

Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the airSo, yesterday I wrote about adventurers climbing Mt. Everest, but did you know that—if you measure from the place where mountains start to rise from the earth’s floor—you can actually drive to the top of the world’s highest mountain, and it’s usually not too dangerous? Mauna Kea Astronomy Observatories copy That’s right. According the the Guinness Book of World Records,  the tallest mountain in the world is Mauna Kea, which rises a whopping 33,480 ft. from the ocean’s floor, over 4,000′ more than Mt. Everest’s 29,029′ height. Road up Mauna KeaHowever, because only 13,796 ft. of Mauna Kea are above sea level, and Hawaii is near the equator, it’s not usually too cold, and you can reach the top in a four-wheel drive vehicle…no oxygen needed (unless the wind gets up to 150 mph or the temperature drops below 0°F, which has happened)!

Onizuka Ciner for International Astronomy Last month while Alan and I were on Hawaii’s Big Island,
we drove as far as the Visitor Center on Mauna Kea one afternoon, Sunset from Mauna Kea. Mauna Loa in distance where we joined a small crowd watching the sunset Night sky from telescope at Mauna Loa Visitor Centerand then took in the Visitor Center’s one-of-a-kind star-gazing program.
(This photo is what you could see through one of the telescopes they’d set up.)  Sunset from Mauna KeaIf you ever go to the Big Island, please save an evening to do this. Twilight on Mauna KeaIt’s totally free and totally unforgettable! Mouna Kea ObservatoriesMauna Kea is the world’s largest and (considered by most to be the world’s) premiere site for astronomical research.Mauna_Kea_observatory *There are 13 gigantic telescopes in observatories
manned by scientists from 11  countries perched atop the mountain.

Night Sky on Mauna KeaBecause of its low latitude, high altitude, dry climate, and stable airflow, from Mauna Kea you can see 85 of the 88 named constellations visible from earth! (Even the infrared from cameras distracted people, and I didn’t have a tripod, so I was unable to capture any of the grandeur.)   😦Full Moon 01.25.16We were especially fortunate, because we went on a night with a full moon which hadn’t risen yet, so the sky was black and the starlight unlike anything I’ve ever seen…even higher than a Rocky Mountain high (which, as John Denver testified, has nothing to do with drugs; John said the song was about his love for the Rocky Mountains and “the elation, celebration of life, or the joy in living that one feels when he observes something as wondrous as the Perseid meteor shower on a moonless, cloudless night, when there are so many stars that you have a shadow from the starlight…”). In fact, both my parents grew up in the Colorado Rockies, so I’ve visited many times over the years, but star gazing from Mauna Kea was the most thrilling night I’ve ever spent “among the stars.” Milky Way**I heard we could see about 12,000 lights in the sky, although it felt like 12 million. The Milky Way was a starry, gauzy veil. We even saw two shooting stars. Truly, it was one of those clear nights where you can see forever! It left me speechless, humbled, and overwhelmed. Photo of picture from the Mauna Kea Observatory“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

 

(*Telescopes of the Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii. Visible is the Subaru Telescope, W. M. Keck Observatory, and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, as posted on Wikipedia by “AlanL” on Feb. 17, 2008. **Photo of the Milky Way taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. You can see more of their photos here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2008/10/18/hubble-space-telescope-best-pictures/ The rest of the photos are mine, taken last month in Hawaii [January, 2015]. The last picture is my photo of a photo that was shown during the video presentation at the Onizuka Visitor Center.)

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